I’ve heard that dogs are susceptible to Lyme disease. What can I do to help prevent this in my dog?
Question: I’ve heard that dogs are susceptible to Lyme disease. What can I do to help prevent this in my dog?
Answer: Yes, like people, dogs can develop Lyme disease. It is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi, that is transmitted to your pet by the deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Once the tick attaches and starts feeding, the bacteria is transmitted through the mouthparts of the tick into the dog’s tissues. The tick needs to be attached at least 72 hours before transmission of the bacteria can occur. After infection, your dog may develop symptoms of Lyme disease, which in most cases would include lethargy and inflammation of the joints causing lameness. Rarely, more serious side effects can be associated with Lyme disease, including inflammation of the heart and kidneys, which can be life threatening. In uncomplicated cases, the infection generally responds rapidly to a course of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and does not result in the long-term chronic illness that can develop in humans.
Since Lyme disease is transmitted via the tick, the best way to prevent it is to control your dog’s exposure to ticks. Lyme is considered endemic in this part of the country due to the high population of deer. Even if you don’t have deer directly on your property, deer ticks can be spread into your area via small rodents and birds. Avoid allowing your pet exposure to high tick areas, such as tall grasses, brush, woods, and leaf piles. Check your pet for ticks after being outside, especially if in high-risk areas. It is recommended to use a tick control product that kills and/or repels ticks on your dog monthly, all year long. Despite being highly effective, you may still periodically find a tick attached to your dog. If you need to remove a tick, use fine-tipped tweezers, not your bare fingers, as this could put you at risk for Lyme infection as well. Lastly, your dog can be vaccinated to help prevent development of Lyme disease if your dog is exposed, and a blood test can be done to screen for infection. In high-risk areas, screening for Lyme infection as well as other tick-borne diseases can be combined with your dog’s annual heartworm test. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best combination of these preventative measures to keep your pet healthy.